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Natural Gas Supply Issues Pushed Power Grid Almost to Blackouts

Parts of the Northeastern United States were pushed nearly to power blackouts this winter by a shortage of natural gas supply in the region and other factors, according to a recent report by The Energy Collective

There were three separate problems with natural gas supplies, according to the article. First, the region has become increasingly dependent on natural gas to generate electricity, and natural gas is less available in winter due to heavy demand for home heating. Secondly, there is insufficient natural gas pipeline capacity in the region. Thirdly, some of the natural gas pipeline networks serving the region experienced freeze-ups this winter.

“Perhaps the most far-reaching dynamic is the growing reliance on natural gas to generate electricity during severe cold spells,” the article states. PJM, the regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in New York, New Jersey and other Mid-Atlantic states, does not currently have a plan for managing power during winter demand spikes.

“Even with the steady increase in natural gas supplies from hydraulic fracturing … the expected retirement of more coal-fired power plants sets the stage for more near-perfect ‘storms’ of too much demand and not enough supply in the summer as well as the winter,” The Energy Collective wrote. “Depending on how utilities and independent generators retire coal-fired and nuclear power plants, the capacity shortfall could get worse before it gets better.”

“Two more problems involved natural gas pipelines,” the article notes. “One was inadequate pipeline capacity to transmit much needed natural gas to the power plants willing to power up. Natural gas utilities needed to draw on their maximum supplies to meet demands by regulated residential and commercial customers. That left slim pickings for everybody else. So even if a power plant wanted to jump in, there wasn’t enough natural gas there to begin with.”

The second problem: Certain natural gas pipeline did not hold up amid the frigid temperatures and certain system mechanics froze up. So even if natural gas was available, certain pipeline networks, especially in Pennsylvania, were not capable of transmitting gas, the article states.

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